Down syndrome (DS) is the most common cause of mental retardation in North America, yet little information is available on the natural history of DS in adults. We report on significant medical problems of adults with DS (DS adults) residing in a British Columbia provincial residential center, Woodlands, over the 12-year period from 1981 through 1992. Prospective, yearly health care reviews on 38 DS adults are summarized according to age. Group 1 consists of 18 middle-aged DS adults less than 50 years old, and group 2 comprises 20 elderly DS adults 50 years and older. Significant health problems in all DS adults include untreated congenital heart anomalies (15. 8%), acquired cardiac disease (15.8%), pulmonary hypertension (7.8%), recurrent respiratory infections/aspiration leading to chronic pulmonary interstitial changes (30%), complications from presenile dementia/Alzheimer-type disease (42%), adult-onset epilepsy (36.8%), osteoarthritic degeneration of the spine (31.6%), osteoporosis with resultant fractures of the long bones (55%) or vertebral bodies (30%), and untreated atlantooccipital instability (7.9%). Acquired sensory deficits are significant problems including loss of vision due to early onset of adult cataracts (50%), recurrent keratitis (21%) or keratoconus (15.8%), and significant hearing loss (25%). Behavioral problems (50%), loss of cognitive abilities, and onset of symptoms of Alzheimer disease (group 1: 5.5%; group 2: 75%) pose ongoing challenges for care. In conclusion, the quality of life for adults with DS can be improved by routine, systematic health care screening to identify treatable diseases that may be missed because of poor communication or confusion due to Alzheimer disease.
Copyright 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.